Leaders of the American Civil War: A Biographical and Historiographical Dictionary

By Charles F. Ritter; Jon L. Wakelyn | Go to book overview

JOSEPH REID ANDERSON (February 6, 1813–September 7, 1892)

Jon L. Wakelyn

As president of Richmond’s Tredegar Iron Works and brigadier general in the Confederate Army, Joseph Reid Anderson was the South’s major manufacturer of military weapons. He was born at “Walnut Hill,” the family residence in Batecourt County, Virginia, on February 6, 1813. His father William, descended from Scotch-Irish immigrants, began his career as a surveyor, fought in the War of 1812, and was a staunch Presbyterian and stern master of his household. His mother Anne Thomas came from a successful Maryland plantation family and belonged to the Episcopal Church. The youngest of nine children, the precocious Joseph was sent to Logan’s Classical School near Fincastle, Virginia, where many planter’s children prepared for their future lives. But young Anderson was not destined to be a planter because there was too little land and he was last on the list of sons. Others of his brothers also gave up on having a future in Virginia agriculture. Two became lawyers, and one a doctor. Their success would someday come in handy for young Joseph.

So how did that young man make his way in that proud but floundering economic world of his native state? The legend that Joseph left home to strike out for himself is incorrect. Instead, family contacts and his own keen intelligence landed him a place at the United States Military Academy in 1832. Young Joseph, like many bright scientifically and mathematically inclined young men, wanted to become a civil engineer. West Point was almost the only way he could gain such training. He came to the banks of the Hudson River determined to find the means to seek his fortune. An imposing and earnest young man, his peers soon noticed that his work ethic left little time for play. To them he appeared direct, daring, and disciplined. He was seen as a leader because of his good judgment, but a few of his fellow Southern classmates remarked that Anderson lacked interest in any studies but the sciences. Also, his near antiSouthern correctness in behavior earned him few merits among his fellows and few demerits at the academy. But that diligent and ambitious student—he fin-

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